This review is of a film that, like Hollow Man, has cool SFX, but just doesn't hold a candle to The Invisible Man (1933).
If any actor can be considered as having fallen from grace over the decades, it’s Chevy Chase. He became an instant star thanks to his work on the first two seasons of Saturday Night Live. His success, not surprisingly, prompted him to leave the TV show that made him famous and try for a career on the big screen. Unlike David Caruso, however, this move proved successful for a time. During the late ‘70s and into the ’80s, Chase had success with films like Fletch, Three Amigos, and National Lampoon’s Vacation series.
It was also during this time that Chase began developing a reputation as being basically a mean prick. As this is Hollywood, however, it doesn’t matter if you treat others like shit so long as the work you put out is successful. But as with Chase’s fellow SNL alum Mike Myers, once you start making crappy movies, audiences are more inclined to take notice of what you do when the cameras aren’t rolling, and are subsequently more inclined to tell you to piss off.
This is what happened with Chase as the ’90s got underway. The first inkling that he wasn’t funny anymore came with the abysmal comedy Nothing But Trouble, which was basically The Addams Family without laughs and also needlessly disgusting. In fairness, though, the blame for that bomb can be squarely placed more on Chase’s co-star, fellow SNL vet Dan Aykroyd, who also directed the picture.
But in between that film and Chase’s infamous bombing as a talk show host with The Chevy Chase Show, Chevy attempted to change his image as a comedic leading man with Memoirs of an Invisible Man.
The film begins in a deserted office with a video camera focused on an empty desk. We suddenly see a chair moving around. We hear Chase’s voice introducing himself as Nick Halloway, and telling us that he’s invisible. He proves this by waving things around, as well as chewing some gum and spitting it out (is this a visual metaphor for Chase’s own career?).
Nick explains that time is of the essence and he’s making this recording because he could be dead soon. He begins his story with the start of one of his usual days as a stock analyst. As if often the case with characters that Chase plays, he’s a bullshitter, and in this case, it actually amuses his secretary Cathy (Rosalind Chao, before she appeared as Keiko O’Brien on Star Trek).
He next goes to his favorite bar, the Academy Club, which Nick describes as a place where guys like him “eat roast beef and hire the occasional whore to discuss how much they stole that day”. So, Donald Trump’s kind of place?
Thankfully, we don’t see any of that going on, as Nick meets up with his pal George Talbot (Michael McKean). They shoot the breeze before George introduces Nick to his friend Alice Monroe (Daryl Hannah), who’s a documentary producer.
Not surprisingly, these two fall in love at first sight, and are quickly making out in the ladies room. Alice tells Nick that she has to leave, but promises to have lunch with him later in the week. Via his narration, Nick states that Alice was indirectly responsible for what happened afterward, because the fact he had the hots for her led to him getting drunker than hell and having a hangover the next day.
The following day also requires Nick to attend a meeting at a place called Magnascopic Laboratories. During a seminar hosted by Dr. Bernard Wachs (Jim Norton), Nick’s hangover (or Wachs’s boring presentation, take your pick) gets the better of him and he decides to go off to a sauna for a nap. Yes, there’s a sauna here. I mean, Picard’s Enterprise having a bar is one thing, but an office building with a sauna is pushing it, to say the least.
Nick asks a technician where the sauna is, and after Nick leaves, the technician spills some coffee on his computer keyboard. This causes his console to blow up, along with all the other computers in the office. Anyone who’s ever used a keyboard will certainly tell you that, while one should avoid spilling liquids on it, there’s no chance in hell that it’ll go up in flames like this. I guess the computers in this lab with a sauna just don’t like Folger’s.
While everything’s blowing itself to hell, Nick relaxes in the sauna. This is why he apparently doesn’t get word to evacuate the building with everyone else. Soon, the building itself appears to disintegrate, although there’s no debris to be found in the area.
Word of this mishap reaches CIA agent David Jenkins (Sam Neill), just as he’s dicking around with a government official (Sam Anderson) who’s grilling him about his mysterious dealings which have left a number of people dead.
As Jenkins and his boss Warren Singleton (Stephen Tobolowsky) study the remains of the partly-visible building, Nick narrates how disorienting it was when he regained consciousness. A technician taking pictures sees hats and the like being used by the now invisible Nick. Nick realizes there are people outside and pounds on the invisible windows for help before running into something and knocking himself out.
The CIA guys prove they’re good at their jobs as when we next see them, they’re carrying Nick on a stretcher. So they managed to climb lord knows how many invisible stairs in order to reach an invisible man, and then climb back down in order to put him on a stretcher? Granted, we later see these guys using special goggles to see Nick and they could’ve used those, but this is presented in such a nonchalant manner that one wonders if this is the first time they’ve encountered an invisible subject.
Perhaps this is the case, as one of the agents offhandedly remarks that Nick will be in a lab with “tubes up his ass for years.” This, naturally, startles Nick awake and he jumps off the stretcher and basically starts asking Jenkins WTF? Jenkins assures him that things will be okay, but Nick isn’t convinced, and after an agent briefly gets a hold of him, he makes a break for it.
Returning to his apartment (after knocking out a drunk to get a cab), Nick attempts to figure out what he can and should do next, while Jenkins convinces Singleton to not let their superiors know about Nick.
The next morning, Cathy calls him asking him why he’s not at work. Nick replies that he’s sick and tells her to reschedule any appointments. But Alice wasn’t on that list, and she calls Cathy later, which is how Jenkins gets her name, because his men have already bugged Nick’s work phone.
Jenkins himself calls Nick to again ask him to come in peacefully. Nick, putting his invisible suit back on, bolts as he hears Jenkins’s men outside.
Nick is able to briefly rest at the Academy Club and even has a groan-worthy nightmare about Jenkins smirking at the hole between Nick’s legs just as he’s about to make out with Alice.
Nick then locates Wachs at a park and reveals his condition, asking for help to reverse it. Wachs tells him that invisibility was not part of their research, but says that Nick should be in a lab so they can study him. Then it turns out Jenkins’s men are nearby, and they knockout Wachs just before Nick escapes.
Jenkins grills Wachs about Nick, and decides to kill him simply because Wachs knows too much. Nick, presumably, discovers this shortly afterward when he infiltrates Jenkins’s office. Jenkins discovers him, however, and once again, tells him how wonderful it would be for them to work together. A brief scuffle ensues before Nick takes off again.
Nick narrates that this is when he decided to wait things out at George’s summer house in San Francisco (which I guess George gave him the key to). Upon arriving, Nick even calls someone to deliver food and charge it to George’s account. Earlier, Jenkins said that, according to Nick’s profile, he doesn’t have any close friends, so I guess the fact that Nick can get into George’s home and knows his account number means that Nick does some hacking on the side.
As the days go by, Nick makes himself at home, even greeting the fishermen while taking morning jogs. The fishing here must be awesome if these guys don’t notice empty clothing jogging down the beach.
Alas, Nick is startled by the arrival of George one day (after all, this home belongs to George, so why the hell would he ever show up, right?). George, his wife Ellen (Patricia Heaton), Alice, and their friend Richard (Gregory Paul Martin) step inside, and they soon realize that someone’s been in their home. George even finds his discarded clothes on the floor, which Nick had just worn, with the invisible and naked Nick standing beside them. They also see the food that Nick ordered, and upon seeing the kind of booze that’s now in the fridge, George deduces that Nick is the one responsible.
George, Ellen, and Richard spend the evening in the living room poking fun at Nick. We get some “funny” bits of Nick spilling Ellen’s drink on her blouse and pulling down Richard’s pants to get back at them. Alice, taken aback by these words from people she thought were Nick’s friends, goes off to bed. Nick proves he’s not above being a peeping tom by following her. I guess this is meant to be fortunate situation for Alice, because Richard follows her and attempts to get cozy with her before Nick yanks him away.
The next day, Nick calls Alice and tells her to meet him at a nearby house. No, we don’t know whose house this is, which gives further credence to my theory about Nick being an accomplished hacker/burglar. Alice arrives and faints upon seeing Nick take off the bandages he’s wearing to reveal that he’s invisible.
Afterward, Nick fills Alice in and she decides to stay at George’s place to help him out. They decide to go to Mexico in order for Nick to start fresh. The two even have time for a romantic date. But Jenkins soon finds them, after hearing George chatting on the phone with his brother about Nick going to his place.
The couple manages to get to a train, but so does Jenkins and his men. They grab Alice before shooting Nick with a tranquilizer. He falls out of the train into a river below. Nick concludes his narration by stating that he was wrong to bring Alice into the situation. But he also gives Jenkins an ultimatum: release Alice, or he’ll share the tape he just made with the world.
Singleton, who somehow got a copy of the tape as well, is pissed off, but Jenkins agrees to the exchange, after chatting with Nick who reveals himself at a phone booth clothed in a trench coat and bandages on his face. Jenkins then pushes Alice into a cab as she shouts to Nick that she loves him.
After the cab drives off, Nick attempts to make a break for it, but Jenkins stops him, giving him a solid punch to the stomach as revenge for their earlier scuffle. But the groan Jenkins hears prompts him to take off Nick’s bandages to reveal George.
As it turns out, Nick is actually driving the cab with Alice. They embrace as he explains that he just told George he needed a favor. I guess we don’t have to worry about Jenkins killing George, since the movie doesn’t.
They’re soon being chased by Jenkins again. They escape the cab, with Nick retreating into a building still under construction. Jenkins follows him as their chase leads to them getting covered in concrete dust. Soon, Nick appears to place himself on the edge of the building and threatens to kill himself. Jenkins grabs the outline of his jacket to stop him, but, as it turns out, Nick had just taken off his dust-covered jacket to trick Jenkins, who falls to his death.
After Singleton tells Alice not to discuss what happened, she and Nick clandestinely reunite. The film ends with our lovebirds in Switzerland, expecting a baby, while Nick spends his days skiing (and presumably hacking).
I previously reviewed another invisible man film, Hollow Man. That movie made it clear from the start that it wanted to be a shocker. Its main flaw was that it resorted to too many horror clichés, and as a result was more stupid than scary.
However, this film, despite cool FX and a great supporting cast, is a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. As I stated earlier, Chase wanted to play up the dramatic elements in this film. This is why he removed the movie’s original director, Ivan Reitman, who was known for directing such comedy classics as Stripes and Ghostbusters. Replacing Reitman was John Carpenter, known for directing such non-comedy classics as Halloween and The Thing. This may have seemed ideal, were it not for the fact that Carpenter came on-board hoping to highlight the comedy aspects.
As a result, this movie suffers because it doesn’t quite know if it wants to be a straight thriller or a straight comedy. The sad part is that it falls short of being either one, as the laughs are few and far between and we’re never truly drawn into Nick’s plight.
And whatever did happen to George, anyway?